National News

Secretary’s Standing Goes ‘Poof’

2014-04-17 10:01:45 lbridwell
Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli Justice  Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian chief  negotiator Saeb Erekat were all smiles when the peace talks started in July. (State Department photo/ Public Domain

Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat were all smiles when the peace talks started in July.
(State Department photo/ Public Domain

After spending more than two-and-a-half hours testifying in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry is fending off criticism from all sides, as Democrats, Republicans and members of the media accuse him of blaming Israelis for derailing peace negotiations.

During a hearing held as a review of the State Department’s $46.2 billion budget request for the upcoming fiscal year, most of the conversation dealt with the foreign policy implications of Russian actions in and around eastern Ukraine. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) was the first to breach the topic of the breakdown of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

“Can you just bring us up to date as to the prognosis of where we are in regards to the peace discussions?” Cardin asked the top U.S. diplomat.

Kerry offered a timeline of the events that he said led to the talks’ derailment the week before. Israel had delayed the fourth round of an agreed-upon release of Palestinian prisoners, he pointed out, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed 15 U.N. agreements in contravention of a pledge to not seek greater international recognition of a Palestinian state prior to April 29.

“The people of Israel have been incredibly supportive and patient in giving [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] the space to be able to [reach an agreement] in exchange for the deal being kept of the release of prisoners and [the Palestinians] not going to the U.N.,” he said. “Unfortunately, the prisoners weren’t released on the Saturday they were supposed to be released … and so a day went by, day two went by, day three went by, and then in the afternoon, when they were about to maybe get there, 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem, and poof, that was sort of the moment.”

Judging by statements made after the testimony by a State Department spokesman, Kerry intended to place responsibility for the breakdown on both sides’ being “unhelpful” in moving the negotiations forward. Observers on Capitol Hill, however, read in Kerry’s remarks a greater emphasis on Israeli misdeeds.

“He put that postscript in, which I thought was unfortunate because I don’t believe that’s at all the reason,” Cardin told the Washington Jewish Week. “The question is whether the Palestinians are sincere about moving forward with a peace agreement and we’ve seen this before: Every time we get close, there doesn’t seem to be the courage among the Palestinian leaders.”

Later, Kerry sought to chart a way forward in the negotiations.

“Our teams are still having some discussion on the ground,” he said. “There was a long meeting yesterday between Palestinians and Israelis, and I’m not going to suggest anything is imminent, but one always has to remain hopeful in this very difficult, complicated process.”

Soon after Kerry’s testimony, a sea of denunciations followed on editorial pages and blogs.

Neri Zilber, visiting scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, took note of the remarks but faulted the media for creating an issue out of what he thinks to be Kerry trying to appear objective.

“If you go back and listen to the hearings, my own interpretation of what Kerry said was that he was laying out a timeline, and I think that’s actually right,” said Zilber. “It’s an interesting development, what happened in the hearing, but I don’t think it should be blown out of proportion like certain other – especially Israeli – papers are portraying it.”

Cardin acknowledged that the overall message Kerry tried to present about his department’s efforts was optimistic. But his colleagues on the committee were less than conciliatory.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) went so far as to suggest that the onetime senator’s efforts – Kerry had at one point chaired the Foreign Relations Committee before being tapped by President Obama to lead the State Department – were a dismal failure.

“The Israeli-Palestinian talks, even though you may drag them out for a while, are finished,” said McCain.

“Well, senator, let me begin with the place that you began with your premature judgment about the failure of everything,” Kerry replied. “I guess it’s pretty easy to lob those judgments around but particularly well before the verdict is in on any of them.”

“It is stopped,” McCain fired back. “Recognize reality.”

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki attempted to clear the controversy surrounding Kerry’s “poof” comment, saying that the secretary was surprised at the attention it is getting.

“The truth is … if you look at the full context of his comments, he went out of his way to credit Prime Minister Netanyahu for making tough choices,” said Psaki. “And you’ll remember … that he began his comments by very matter of factly referring to the unhelpful and provocative steps the Palestinians took by going on television and, of course, announcing their intention to join U.N. treaties.”

Following the hearing, the committee met privately with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in a closed door meeting, which Cardin described as a “meeting among friends.” Lieberman has been in the U.S. for the Jerusalem Post Conference in New York City and was invited to Washington for meetings with the committee, Obama and Kerry.

Despite the apparent hopelessness surrounding the talks, Cardin was clear that he still believes U.S. involvement is necessary and feels that the secretary indicated that more progress was being made than has been publicly acknowledged.

“I think we have to keep trying,” said Cardin, “and I hope that the international community would – particularly as it relates to the Palestinians – explain to Mr. Abbas that moving forward with a peace agreement recognizing the Jewish State of Israel would be in the best interest of the Palestinians.” contributed to this story.

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Kansas Gunman Targets JCC

2014-04-17 09:56:44 lbridwell
A gunman with ties to the Ku Klux Klan killed three people outside of two Jewish facilities in Kansas City Sunday. (DAVE KAUP/REUTERS/Newscom)

A gunman with ties to the Ku Klux Klan killed three people outside of two Jewish facilities in Kansas City Sunday.

Kansas’ tight-knit Jewish community was rocked just one day before the beginning of Passover as a gunman took the lives of three people in attacks just minutes apart outside the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City in Overland Park and a local retirement home.

According to various news reports, at about 1 p.m., shots were reported outside the JCC’s theater entrance, where auditions were being held for a singing competition for area teenagers. One man was reportedly killed at the scene, while another died at a local hospital. The suspect then fled to the Village Shalom community and opened fire, killing one woman before fleeing to a school, where he was arrested.

Police arrested Frazier Glenn Miller, 73, of Aurora, Mo., who also goes by Frazier Glenn Cross, a white supremacist and former “grand dragon” of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, reports said.

Two others were shot at, but not injured. Some reports said that the gunman asked people if they were Jewish before firing his weapon and that he shouted “Heil Hitler” about the time of his arrest.

A post on the Overland Park JCC’s Facebook page said the institution was closed on Monday. As people in cities across the country finished their last-minute Passover preparations — the eight-day festival began Monday night — many JCCs, including those in the Owings Mills and Park Heights, benefited from a beefed-up police presence.

Local Jewish organizations joined in solidarity to express sympathies to the Jewish community of Kansas City.

“We join in sorrow and horror with Jewish communities around the world as we begin to process the tragedy in Kansas City. Unfortunately, hatred and bigotry still exist in today’s world and humanity must unite in its promotion of tolerance, acceptance and loving kindness,” read a joint statement by Howard Friedman, chairman of the board, and Marc Terrill, president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. “We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families of the victims and to the entire Kansas City community as they deal with this senseless violence.”

Michael Hoffman, vice president of community planning and allocations at The Associated, called the event “horrific” and “senseless.”

“Security is always our highest priority and we always take a significant amount of measures to ensure the safety, not just of members of the JCC, but to all members of the Jewish community,” he said.

Barak Hermann, president of JCC of Greater Baltimore, said the JCC trains staff annually and runs drills periodically for emergency situations.

“I think that these events remind us to have a heightened awareness of what’s happening,” he said. “Our job is to make sure people come here and they feel it’s a home away from home, they feel safe and secure.”

A Baltimore City Police car was parked by the front entrance to the Weinberg Park Heights JCC Monday morning. Member Elaine Janovsky said she “felt a little uneasy and on edge” about coming to the JCC, but she and her husband did so anyway.

Keisha Maldonado, a mother of three, said this type of violence is always in the back of her mind as she entered the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC Monday morning.

“I always think twice about things like this,” she said. “I don’t even go to the Columbia mall anymore.”

Howard Cohen and his wife Shirley, JCC members for about five years, said they had “no second thoughts” about working out Monday morning.

A letter to JCC members from Hermann and Will Minkin, chairman of the board at the JCC of Greater Baltimore, said they are continuing to monitor the situation.

“We have been in touch with the police department from both Baltimore City and county and were able to immediately secure police presence at both our campuses until we verified that the tragedy was an isolated incident,” the letter said.

Baltimore County Police Cpl. John Wachter said police are being watchful and “extra vigilant.”

“Any time there’s anything … national that might have an impact on the safety of people in Baltimore County, we’re going to adjust our operations accordingly,” he said.

Arthur Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said the council’s sympathies go out to the Jewish community and the victims.

“Baltimore, like other Jewish communities throughout the United States, recognizes that lone-wolf attacks like this one are very difficult to prevent, but what is of great concern as well is the continued perpetuation of hatred in our politics, the media, etc.,” he said. “We need to do something about this and it is not acceptable to preach hatred.”

Washington-area Jewish organizations worked with law enforcement in Montgomery County, the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia to increase patrols at Jewish facilities. The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington funded additional security in the form of off-duty police officers to the three area Jewish community centers.

While the FBI and police did not initially call the violence a hate crime, many national organizations did not wait for confirmation to denounce the shootings.

“Unfortunately, this is not the first time there has been a shooting at a Jewish Community Center,” read a statement from B’nai B’rith International. “Comments attributed to the shooter after police had him in custody demonstrate a blind hatred toward Jews.”

The Anti-Defamation League, meanwhile, noted that just a week before, it released a security bulletin to communal institutions warning of the increased potential for violence around Passover and the April 20 birthday of Adolf Hitler. That day “has historically been marked by extremist acts of violence and terrorism, including the violence at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, and the Oklahoma City bombing,” read the statement.

“We mourn the tragic loss of life in today’s shootings in the Overland Park, Kan., Jewish community,” Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said in a statement. “Information about the perpetrator is still being uncovered, but early reports indicate that anti-Semitism may have been a factor. If so, it is a tragic reminder, this day before Jews around the world observe Passover, of the hatred that continues to plague our world.

“It is also yet another horrific instance of an act of senseless violence involving the use of guns to take innocent lives,” continued Saperstein. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those killed and injured in today’s shootings. May the memories of those lost be forever a blessing.”

The JT’s former editor-in-chief, Maayan Jaffe, is director of philanthropy at the Overland Park JCC. She and her family were unharmed.

“I work in this building, my children go to school here, my husband works here,” she said. “Things like this do not happen [here].”

JT digital media editor and senior reporter Melissa Gerr and Washington Jewish Week senior writer David Holzel contributed to this report.

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Mock Evictions Spark University’s Ire

2014-04-03 11:55:51 lbridwell
Students for Justice in Palestine activists protest Northeastern University’s decision to suspend SJP for one academic year. (Northeastern SJP Facebook page)

Students for Justice in Palestine activists protest Northeastern University’s decision to suspend SJP for one academic year.
(Northeastern SJP Facebook page)

American universities have long been a place of political engagement, where rhetoric far from the sphere of mainstream political discourse is often the norm. But the recent suspension of a pro-Palestine student group has thrust Boston’s Northeastern University into a national debate on what constitutes free speech and what crosses into anti-Semitism and intimidation.

The situation gained national attention recently after the Northeastern chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine slipped 600 mock eviction notices under dorm room doors. SJP claims the fliers were intended to symbolize what they say to be arbitrary evictions given to Arab residents of Israel. The action, however, spurred a swift rebuke from university administrators, who suspended SJP for one academic year.

“The undergraduate Students for Justice in Palestine organization at Northeastern has been temporarily suspended for multiple violations of university policy over an extended period of time,” said a March 17 statement from the university’s administration. “This decision was handed down only after a careful and thorough review of the facts and only after repeated efforts by university officials to guide the leadership of the undergraduate SJP organization.”

According to Renata Nyul, director of communications at Northeastern, SJP’s violations spanned a period of two years and “included vandalism of university property, disrupting the events of other student organizations, not getting the appropriate permits when required, distributing unauthorized materials inside residence halls and sliding them under the doors of private rooms, not providing a ‘civility statement’ which was required after a previous sanction [and] not meeting with university advisers.”

Nyul pointed to the university’s Student Organization Resource Guide, which among other things, prohibits “dorm storming” — sliding fliers under residents’ doors.

Northeastern law student and SJP leader Max Geller does not deny that his organization distributed the flyers without permission. But he said SJP is careful in choosing which methods to spread its message and that the university does not enforce the rules for other organizations. He also denied SJP’s involvement in the vandalism accusations.

“We are calculated, and we would never do something so belligerent as defacing school property,” said Geller. “I would like to say, for the record, that it never happened, and we were never formerly charged with that [vandalism]. They are sort of tacking it on to make a scene like we’re out of control and we’re undisciplined with our decisions about where and when to engage in speech.”

According to Geller, student organizations at the university hand out unauthorized fliers all the time but are not suspended for it. Nyul denied Geller’s claim, saying that since 2008, 18 student organizations have either been sanctioned or suspended for failing to abide by “policies and procedures outlined” in the guide.

Still, SJP’s situation has attracted supporters such as the Massachusetts chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The bottom line is our three legal organizations view this as interference with freedom of expression on a university campus,” said ACLU Massachusetts staff attorney Sarah Wunsch. “It’s totally at odds with the nature of what a university is supposed to be about.”

But Jewish organizations on and off campus are claiming that SJP’s actions are going beyond acceptable speech — crossing the line into intimidation of Jewish students on campus.

Kenneth Marcus, president and general counsel at the Louis Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and former director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, says that SJP’s actions are part of a national trend among pro-Palestinian activists to create a hostile environment for Jewish and pro-Israel students. At first most visible at West Coast universities, such actions have spread to the East Coast, said Marcus. Some universities, he charged, are afraid to handle the problem.

Marcus said that under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the university could expose itself to legalaction if it does not prevent students being subjected to a hostile environment due to their ethnic or ancestral characteristics.

“One of our concerns … is that administrations have much more difficulty dealing with anti-Semitism when Israel is involved or when the perpetrators are members of other minority groups,” he explained. “We’re constantly hearing across the country that administrators are reluctant to take action against Palestinian or Muslim organizations for fear that they would be considered racist if they did so.

“The question for federal agencies is whether the situation has gotten so out of hand that a reasonable student in the position of a Northeastern undergraduate would have less opportunity to get an equal education,” he added. Although Northeastern is a private institution, it must still abide by nondiscrimination law because it receives federal funding.

Although the university acted in response to the February incident, Northeastern has been accused in the past of not fostering a welcoming environment for Jewish students.

In July 2013, the Zionist Organization of America conducted interviews of Jewish students at Northeastern and sent a letter to university president Joseph Aoun describing instances of singling out and intimidation of Jewish students by members of the student body and some professors. Aoun did not respond to the letter.

Susan Tuchman, director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, commended the university’s latest action to enforce its rules.

“My understanding is that the university is holding that group [SJP] to the same rules and policies that apply to everybody on campus, and that’s the right thing to do,” said Tuchman.

Tuchman said the purpose of the 2013 letter was to encourage the university to take action, adding that the standard ZOA uses to describe the difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is not just based on the organization’s beliefs. She pointed to a study released by the U.S. State Department in 2008 on what it called the “new anti-Semitism.”

“According to the EUMC [European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia] definition,” the report concludes, “regardless of the motive, anti-Zionist and anti-Israel criticism become anti-Semitic when they entail: denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination; applying double standards to Israel; using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism to characterize Israel or Israelis; drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis; or holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel.”

Geller denied that Jewish students were specifically targeted by the flyer drop and said the organization purposely avoided the campus Hillel “and Jewish fraternity neighborhoods.” He also claimed that no one would mistake the message for an anti-Semitic one.

“You might look at the flier for an instant and think, ‘Uh oh, what is this?’” said the ACLU’s Wunsch, “but if you looked at it at all, it’s quite obvious that this is about the Palestinians and what happens to them and their housing by the government of Israel.

“Some people have said that Northeastern has responded this way to please some of its donors,” she continued. “And if that’s the basis on which they’ve chosen to suspend SJP, that’s really shameful for a university to do.”

Those in charge of the Northeastern SJP’s Facebook group have apparently endorsed Wunsch’s contention, posting a political cartoon that depicts Aoun nailing boards on the door of the student group. A disembodied arm from the sky with a Star of David and “The Lobby” written on its sleeve pats him on the head. A voice belonging to the arm says, “Good boy!” contributed to this story.

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What Happens in Vegas

2014-04-03 11:51:23 lbridwell
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addresses the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addresses the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas.
(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS — The GOP Jewish faithful descended in force on Sin City, turning out in record numbers and striking a feisty, combative tone at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual conference.

According to organizers, some 400 people attended the gathering, where they were feted with poker and golf tournaments and wooed by presidential hopefuls.

“In Jewish crowds, I’m tired of keeping my political views quiet,” said Barry Sobel, an asset manager from College Park, Ga. “It’s nice to be in a room of like-minded people.”

Jewish Republicans make up a distinct minority of American Jewry — President Obama won 69 percent of Jewish votes in the 2012 elections, according to exit polls — and a tiny proportion of the national electorate.

However, they wield a political clout that far exceeds their numbers, in large part because Jewish Republicans are some of the GOP’s most important donors. And no donor is more important than the host of this year’s conference, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.

The conference was held in the Adelson-owned Venetian Hotel and Casino, and his presence loomed large over the gathering.

National media dubbed this year’s conference the “Sheldon Primary,” in recognition of the many potential Republican presidential candidates who arrived not only to address the crowds, but also for private sit-downs with Adelson, who spent a reported $93 million on the 2012 presidential election and has announced he will spend much more in 2016. He also is backing an effort to bring the 2016 Republican National Convention to Las Vegas.

Along with a Shabbat dinner address by Israel’s U.S. ambassador, Ron Dermer, and a scotch-tasting with Israeli venture capitalist Jonathan Medved, this year’s conference featured a cattle call of sorts for GOP presidential hopefuls. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush spoke to an exclusive dinner held at Adelson’s private airplane hangar on Thursday. On Saturday, Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey, Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio, as well as John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, addressed attendees.

As they gathered beneath the glass chandeliers, painted ceilings and gold leaf ornaments of the Venetian’s palatial surroundings, conference-goers echoed many of the hot-button concerns that have dominated the GOP discourse — creeping socialism, the IRS, Benghazi. But one issue consistently stood out: Israel.

Conferees could be overheard sharing tales of the Democrats’ fecklessness toward the Jewish state, and it was invocations of Israel that drew the loudest applause during the speeches.

“This administration has played Jews for suckers,” Sobel said, accusing the Obama administration of “trying to put Israel in its place.”

“Right now, Jews need to be one-issue voters,” he added.

Adelson, too, has long declared that Israel is his top political issue, above even banning online gambling.

Sensitivities surrounding Israel landed Christie in a bit of hot water during his otherwise well-received speech. The New Jersey governor was holding his audience spellbound with a rapturous description of his recent trip to Israel when he tripped a rhetorical landmine.

“I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across, and just felt, personally, how extraordinary that was to understand the military risk that Israel faces every day,” Christie told the crowd.

Although Christie received a standing ovation at the end of his speech, his use of the phrase “occupied territories” upset some attendees who felt that such wording casts aspersions on Israel’s claim to the West Bank.

“Chris Christie either does not understand the issues affecting Israel or he’s not a friend of Israel,” said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.

Klein said he brought up the remarks with Adelson, and Politico subsequently reported that Christie had later apologized to Adelson in a private meeting.

The RJC’s executive director, Matthew Brooks, dismissed Christie’s remark as “a slip of the tongue.”

“I have every confidence that Gov. Christie is an unabashed, unequivocal supporter of Israel,” said Brooks.

Christie was not the only candidate making an effort to connect with the crowd on a Judaic level. Walker spoke of how his son’s name, Matthew, translates from the Hebrew as “a gift from God” and of lighting menorah candles at the Wisconsin governor’s mansion. Kasich described his effort to build a Holocaust memorial on the grounds of the Ohio Statehouse.

Bolton brought the crowd to its feet with his fierce denunciations of the Obama administration’s Iran diplomacy and his call for the United States to firmly back the Jewish state, even if Israel should choose to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

But the candidates also touted their broader appeal, with Christie and Walker citing their experience as governors of traditionally Democratic states and Kasich defending his decision to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, though without explicitly referencing Medicaid or the health care act.

All the speakers also pledged, with varying degrees of specificity, to pursue a muscular and assertive foreign policy.

“Unfortunately, we see within our own party a rising tide of what can only be called isolationism,” said Bolton.

That more isolationist strain in the GOP is particularly associated with a presumed presidential hopeful who was not at the Las Vegas conference, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. Brooks said that Paul had been invited to attend but declined in favor of a family commitment.

Brooks said the RJC’s focus was on this year’s midterm congressional elections rather than 2016. Like many Republicans, he is hopeful the party can take control of the Senate. Brooks said the RJC was aiming to broaden its outreach as part of the campaign.

Some of the politicians in attendance seemed to be tailoring their pitches more narrowly. Kasich made it clear that he had a particular target in mind as he concluded his speech to the conclave: “Hey listen, Sheldon, thanks for inviting me.”

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Flash in the Pan?

2014-03-27 12:48:45 lbridwell

Underdog Republican candidate David Jolly’s victory in Florida’s 13th congressional district on March 11 is being hotly debated by both sides of the aisle on whether the contest is an indicator of things to come in the 2014 midterm election later this year.

The district west of Tampa is like many in Florida, home to a plethora of retirement communities, senior citizens hailing from states farther north and a higher-than-average Jewish population — at 2.73 percent, compared with 2.18 percent nationally, according to a 2013 study by Joshua Comenetz for the Berman Jewish DataBank at the Jewish Federations of North America.

By most accounts, the race shouldn’t have gone the GOP’s way.

Jolly, who had no name recognition, worked as a lobbyist, had recently gone through a divorce and had been campaigning with his girlfriend, narrowly edged a candidate the Democrats placed their hope — and sizable funds — behind in a special election to fill the seat of longtime Republican Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who died last fall.

Jolly’s Democratic opponent, Alex Sink, was a polished candidate who had served as Florida’s chief financial officer and ran a strong campaign for governor, losing to Rick Scott by 1 percent of the vote in 2010. With her name recognition and personal appeal, she sailed through a primary unopposed; Jolly, by contrast, had to clear a field of three primary challengers to emerge for the general election far behind Sink in campaign funds.

And although the district had been represented in Congress by a Repub-lican for nearly 40 years, it voted twice, in 2008 and 2012, for President Barack Obama. With no incumbent, this year’s contest was Sink’s to lose, owing to her superior name recognition and war chest.

Were it not for the visceral opposition to Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act, say some analysts, Jolly’s come-from-behind victory would have been surprising. Largely following a script used by the GOP in the 2010 midterm elections, Jolly focused most of his campaign toward attacking the health care law and calling for its repeal. Sink, meanwhile, positioned herself as a moderate willing to fix the law.

Many Republicans are pointing to the race as proof of the strategy’s effectiveness.

“There’s no doubt Florida 13 has Democrats increasingly worried about losing the Senate,” Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, wrote in a column posted to the Breitbart website. “And they should be worried. Not only did it show that their policies — especially Obamacare — are unpopular, but Republicans were able to benefit from the RNC’s new voter engagement strategy, which includes the new data tools, new technology and new permanent ground game that we’re using all across the country.”

With the success of the health care platform, the GOP is clearly anxious about the strategy’s chances in other competitive races throughout the country. In addition to the Senate, a number of House districts may also be at play, and Democrats reacted to the loss in Florida by characterizing the Jolly effort as a flash in the plan. Democratic National Committee chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, herself from Florida, said that a Republican focus on undermining the Affordable Care Act would “alienate” voters around the country.

Kyle Kondik, managing editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said there’s no surprise in the prospect of a Republican surge later this fall.

“If you look at the historical trends for going into a midterm [election], there’s the fact that there’s a Democrat in the White House and that Democrat doesn’t have great approval ratings,” explained Kondik. “That in and of itself sort of tells us that Republicans are set up to have at least an OK year.”

Kondik was quick to caution against drawing solid conclusions from a special election in a politically balanced district — where the margin of victory was not great — but he acknowledged that the GOP will try to “milk it for all it’s worth.”

“The national environment isn’t all that great for Democrats right now, but that’s not written in stone,” he said. “Then again, I think at this point you’d rather be the Republicans than the Democrats in this midterm.”

Being a midterm election, there will be no presidential coattail effect on the congressional and Senate races. This year, without Obama at the top of
the ballot, Democrats will have to absorb the Republicans’ attacks on the president’s record.

“I think that the Jolly victory reflects a historical trend that there tends to be a hubris that kicks in when one party dominates, when one party holds power, and six years into an eight-year term, the party out of power usually does quiet well,” said Frank Scaturro, a constitutional attorney, author and one of the two GOP candidates competing for the nomination to run for retiring Democratic Rep. Carolyn McCarthy’s seat in New York’s 4th congressional district, which encompasses Nassau County’s Five Towns and surrounding areas. contributed to this story.

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